Swords From Their Lips (pt. 6)

Have you ever found something in a surprising place? I remember one day while I was getting ready to go to work I couldn’t find my wallet! I looked everywhere for it. I checked the usual spots like my coat pockets, my pants pockets from the day before, the cracks in our couch, inside and outside the car, or if it had fallen behind the table I usually place it on but it was nowhere to be found. By this time I was getting quite annoyed because it was making me late for work. I then decided to check the unusual places like the refrigerator, the freezer, and finally the microwave and surprise, surprise there it was! It turns out my daughter who only recently discovered how to open, close and even turn on the microwave decided to put it in there and zap it. Why I will never know but I am glad that I did find it and only ended up being marginally late for work. We have come a long ways since we started our study “Swords From Their Lips” and with this post we will bring it to a close by considering a surprising place to find a sharp double-edged sword – in Jesus mouth! Thankfully, unlike my experience with my wallet and never being able to know why my daughter decided to do this we can know why Jesus is said to have a sharp double-edged sword in his mouth.

Who is Jesus?

“Who do people say I am?” That is the question Jesus asked his disciples one day as they were en route to Caesarea Philippi. In some respects it is a bit unusual because ordinarily it was disciples who posed questions to their rabbis rather than the reverse. But Jesus is no ordinary rabbi. It is also a bit unusual because usually people ask what others do, not who they are. However in asking the question this way it is more profound and brings to the forefront what the disciples have been wondering in their heart themselves since the stilling of the storm, “’Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him?’” (Mark 4:41).

The disciples’ initial answer echoes popular opinion about Jesus, “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’” (Mark 8:28). Jesus has an illustrious standing in the popular mind because to liken Jesus to John, Elijah, or a prophet was to rank him among the stellar figures in Israel’s long history. Popular opinion of Jesus today would answer in a similar fashion saying things like, “He is the greatest teacher who ever lived” or “He is the greatest moral example who ever lived” or “He is the greatest prophet who ever lived” or even “He is the greatest political revolutionary who ever lived.” Some things never change! However, while this may seem like a compliment of great honor it is ultimately to deny Jesus uniqueness and authority as the very Son of God.

Jesus then asks a second, more intense question, “’But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am.’?” (Mark 8:29). With that brief question Jesus Christ confronted His followers with the most important issue they would ever face. He had spent much time with them and made some bold claims about His identity and authority. Now the time had come for them either to believe or deny His teachings. Jesus’ question is an invitation to take personally and seriously the necessity to stop taking refuge in the answers of others and answer for ourselves. Jesus question is also an invitation to take personally and seriously the possibility that maybe we need to see him differently or that our perception of him is inadequate or that our Jesus is not the real Jesus. In other words, Jesus question is an invitation to come and start rediscovering the true greatness and glory of the real Jesus and ruthlessly abandon the Jesus we thought was real.

A great place to discover the true greatness and glory of the real Jesus is the book of Revelation. As Revelation 1:1 says, it is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (WARNING: Technical note – read at your own risk – yes for those of you so inclined to think about the finer issues of the Greek language I am aware of the massive amount of ink spilt over whether Jesus is the source of the revelation [subjective genitive] or the object being described by the revelation [objective genitive] to which I say yes, he is the source and object of revelation [plenary genitive]).

Just in the first chapter of Revelation alone Jesus is revealed as:

  1. The faithful witness (v. 5)
  2. The firstborn from the dead (v. 5)
  3. The ruler of the kings of the earth (v. 5)
  4. Him who loves us (v. 6)
  5. Him who has freed us from our sins by his blood (v. 6)
  6. Him who has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father (v. 6)
  7. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever (v. 6)
  8. The First and the Last (v. 17)
  9. The Living One (v. 18)
  10. He who holds the keys of death and Hades (v. 18)

Jesus is Judge

Is the Jesus you thought was real holding up to how the Bible actually reveals him or have you already had to smash some false idols of Jesus? But that is not all! In verses 12-16 the real Jesus is revealed through a series of eight successive images to be the exalted sovereign Judge:

  1. “Dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet” (v. 13)
  2. “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow” (v. 14)
  3. “His eyes were like blazing fire” (v. 14)
  4. “His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace” (v. 15)
  5. “His voice was like the sound of rushing waters” (v. 15)
  6. “In his right hand he seven stars” (v. 16)
  7. “Out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (v. 16)
  8. “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (v. 16)

You see! It is primarily as Judge that Jesus Christ appears in Revelation. He judges the churches (chs. 2—3), the whole earth (chs. 4—16), Babylonianism (chs. 17—18), world rulers at Armageddon (19:19-21), and Satan (20:1-3, 10). He also judges the earth during the Millennium (20:4-6), the rebellious earth at the end of the Millennium (20:7-9), and all the unsaved dead (20:11-15). The first 20 chapters of the book deal with judgment and the last two with the new creation.

But if we are honest we will have to say that many of us don’t like this Jesus. We only like a Jesus that manifests grace, compassion, and mercy. We’re much like children going through a buffet line. We pick and choose what to include and exclude. Most children select desserts and other appetizing foods and bypass vegetables, salads, and fruits. We too can be guilty of picking and choosing what attributes of Jesus we find appetizing and neglecting the rest. The moment we do so, however, we are no longer worshiping the Jesus of the Bible but our own made up image of him and so while you may fervently say, “I love Jesus” the Jesus you love is not the real Jesus but your own self-made creation! Yikes! If you have no room in your heart for Jesus as Judge than you need to ask God to change your heart that you might know him as he really is and not how you think he really is.

What Came Out Of His Mouth?

I could go on and on about that issue for a while but this post is already turning out longer than I want it to be and I haven’t even talked about the phrase that is pertinent to this post – “out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (v. 16). What is that all about? Why does Jesus have a sword coming out of his mouth? Let me point out a few things:

First, the image is drawn from Isaiah 11:4 which says that the Messiah (the root of Jesse, the Branch on whom the Spirit of the LORD will rest) will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked (see also Isaiah 49:2).” In light of that correlation it is not difficult to understand the significance of a sword from his mouth! In fact, take a moment to read Revelation 19:11-21, especially verses 15-16, 21!

Second, the sword in view is not the Romans “short sword” but a large, broad Thracian sword used often in cavalry charges like a scythe. Again, consider Romans 19:11-21 where Christ is seated on a horse!

Third, consider the words of John 12:48, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” God’s Word will judge his enemies!

It is very plain then that the sword protruding from Jesus mouth is symbolic of his judicial power which will be in accordance with his Word. It symbolizes the irresistible authority and devastating force of the Lord’s judgment and Word. His Word is both creative (Gen. 1) and destructive (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 19).

Whom will Jesus judge by the Word/Sword from his mouth?

  1. He will judge the lawless one. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 says, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.”
  2. He will judge the wicked. See Isaiah 11:4 and John 12:48 above.
  3. He will judge his church. Jesus has some strong words for the church of Pergamum in Revelation 2:16 – “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Why such strong words of judgment? It seems the church at Pergamum was promoting some serious doctrinal errors which fell far short of the living Word of God. So much for the creed “Don’t give me doctrine, I just want to follow Jesus.” Besides the fact that such a creed IS a doctrine, Jesus himself warns of impending judgment if the Christians at Pergamum don’t repent of false doctrine! Doctrine matters! Theology matters!

So we end how we began – “Who do you say I am?” Do you believe in the Jesus whose mouth is a sword? Do you believe in Jesus as Judge? Do you need to “repent” like the Christians at Pergamum of a false Jesus? Do you know the real Jesus?

Swords From Their Lips (pt. 2)

You know you remember it and if you have kids you have probably heard it said more times than you care to remember – “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” What a lie! Words do hurt us and sometimes deeper then we would ever like to admit. None of us would have to try very hard to remember a hurtful word said to us at one point or another and in fact I know that some of us keep records of it. I once heard of a wife who in the very same journal she kept her bible notes she also kept a running list of all the hurtful things her husband had ever said to her! So much for 1 Corinthians 13:5!

In part one of this mini-series on the stewardship of our words we briefly considered how we sometimes recklessly and hurtfully stab at others with dagger-like words. David especially makes note of these swords in our mouths, himself often at their pointed edge (Ps. 55:21; Ps. 57:4; Ps. 59:7; Ps. 64:3). For this second part, we will consider what God thinks about how we use these “swords” by considering Psalm 59.

He Laughs (Psalm 59:8)

 

As far as I know, with the exception of Proverbs 1:26, Psalms is the only book of the Bible that speaks of God “laughing” and it does so three times:

  1. Psalm 2:4 – “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.”
  2. Psalm 37:13 – “But the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.”
  3. Psalm 59:8 – “But you, O LORD, laugh at them; you scoff at all those nations.”

In Psalm 2:4 God is laughing at the conspiring “nations” and plotting “peoples,” the “kings of the earth” and the gathered “rulers” who vainly think that by standing together they can throw off the rule of God and His Anointed One. Clearly God is not intimidated, threatened, or worried about the plan of the nations but rather laughing at its futility. In Psalm 37:13 the Lord is laughing at evil men plotting against the righteous (v. 12) “for he knows their day is coming.” The wicked will not accomplish anything by their crafty designs for their overthrow by God himself is certain. Thus the wicked man’s scheming is vain and worthy only of contemptible laughter. Understanding Psalm 2:4 and Psalm 37:13 helps us to understand Psalm 59:8. In their zeal and confidence, David’s slanderers  have made a crucial miscalculation for they say, “Who can hear us?” (v. 7). They are aggressive and reckless and foolish with their words because they believe David has no one to help him. With atheistic security, they believe no one else hears and believe there will be no accounting for what they say but they are sorely mistaken for as Psalm 59:8 says, “But you, O LORD, laugh at them” and as we will see in the next point his laughter is the precursor to his wrath and judgment.

He Judges (Psalm 59:12-13)

 

Psalm 59:12-13 says, “For the sins of their mouths, for the words of their lips, let them be caught in their pride. For the curses and lies they utter, consume them in wrath, consume them till they are no more. Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.”

We don’t like this but nevertheless we must learn this lesson – we sin with our mouths and for this we deserve to be consumed in God’s wrath. Why? Because as Jesus teaches us “out of the overflow of his heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). What is more, not only do we deserve to be consumed in God’s wrath for the prideful, cutting, piercing, blood-thirsty words we speak but unless we by God’s grace turn from our sin we will be. Jesus taught us, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). And in consuming us in his wrath for the sins of our mouth the glory of God’s justice will be seen for as Psalm 59:13 says, “it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.”

So God laughs and his laughter is a precursor to his wrath and judgment. In light of this we might be tempted to stop talking altogether but that is not the answer for our words can also give life and grace to those who hear.

The point for this post is to remember that God hears. This is important to keep in mind because when we recklessly lash out with piercing, hurtful words it is because we have forgotten that our words instead of vanishing into thin air are heard by the God of the universe who searches all things and will hold us all accountable. Further keep in mind that just because you might mumble the words under your breath or feel them intently in your heart instead of vocalizing them directly you are still guilty and subject to judgment. Whether in a shouting match or muttering under your breath or thinking in your heart or posting something online in a blog or on Twitter or on Facebook – God still hears so let us make the psalmist’s prayer our own – “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). Remember also that the sins of the mouth reveal an even greater problem, namely, a sinful heart. Let us take our sins of the tongue to the cross in repentant confession – God hears that also – praying with the psalmist, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Lastly, as Christians who believe the Bible to be the authoritative word of God, the church to be the pillar and buttress of truth, Jesus Christ to be the only name under heaven whereby we must be saved and in a literal heaven and hell we are not immune to the railings and slandering’s of the world. Who among us has not been derisively asked, “You don’t really believe that do you?” Remember, God hears that also and it is he who gets the last laugh! Such scorn need give no concern to our faith!

For our next part, using the same Psalms, we will consider more how we should use these “swords.”

Another Arresting Thought

Daniel Webster once said, “The greatest thought that has ever entered my mind is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life.” He was right. 2 Corinthians 5:10 – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”